The Horror of My Life – Mathew Gostelow
The first horror book I remember reading
When I was really little, I had an amazing pop-up book called Haunted House by Jan Pienkowski. Each page was a different room, with an monster bursting from the page. I vividly remember making the eyes move on creepy paintings and seeing a gigantic shrimp creature busting through the bathroom wall. The final page had a wooden box, which was being sawed open from within and it always left me wondering who or what could be hidden inside.
The First Horror Film I remember watching
At primary school, a policeman called PC Depper came in with a cine-projector (yes, I’m THAT old) and showed us a public information film called Apaches. It was made to warn kids about the dangers of playing on farms, but it was an out-and-out horror movie.
A group of children, playing cowboys and Indians, is picked off one by one by the hazards of the farm. Notable deaths included drowning in slurry, crashing a tractor into a quarry, and drinking acid.
It had this surreal, nightmarish quality, because the kids kept playing, even though their friends had just died. Also, the scenes of them playing were inter-cut with footage of parents weeping, empty places at dinner tables and school desks, and child-sized coffins being lowered into graves.
Proper nightmare fuel.
The Greatest Horror Book of All Time
This is a tough one, but for me, the greatest horror book of all time is The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson. I just love how Jackson nails the internal landscape of her characters. She writes unsettled psychology like nobody else I’ve ever read. And that inner discomfort is matched by a creepy, atmospheric tension in the outside world.
All the way through the book we’re left guessing, never entirely sure whether something supernatural is taking place or whether the main character is having some sort of breakdown. Ultimately it feels like both could be true, or some unholy blend of the two.
For me, the most effective horror takes place in the mind, and Shirley Jackson moves through our heads with unmatched skill.
The Greatest Horror Film of all time
The greatest horror movie of all time? That’s almost impossible to say. There are so many. I adore Alien and Cronenburg’s version of The Fly. But I also love more recent films like Kill List, A Dark Song and Censor. If you asked me again in two weeks’ time I’d probably give you a completely different answer, but today, I’m going to say Saint Maud by Rose Glass is the greatest horror film of all time. The atmosphere and the two lead performances are insanely good throughout, and the steady drip-drip of creeping dread is perfectly paced.
Also, there are some incredible moments of horror in there. The shoes! Not giving anything away, but that scene with the shoes is toe-curlingly horrendous. And the climactic scenes are incredibly disturbing too.
The film is almost completely tailor-made for my preferences – atmosphere over gore, psychology over monsters. It’s really a masterpiece.
THE GREATEST WRITER OF ALL TIME
He’s not best known for writing horror, but the writer I’d pick for greatest of all time is Alan Moore. The way he plays in frowned-upon genre spaces like sci-fi, and supposedly low-brow media like comics, without ever compromising his literary ambitions is a real inspiration to me.
The Watchmen is a bona fide classic, obviously, but I also love his take on Jack The Ripper in From Hell and his critical reimagining of Lovecraft’s work in Providence.
I would also recommend Jerusalem, Moore’s experimental epic novel, which takes a winding journey through time, imagination, and psychogeography to explore Northampton, England, and the world. Reading it is an utterly unique experience.
THE BEST BOOK COVER OF ALL TIME
I absolutely adore the artwork on the covers of Things We Lost in the Fire and The Dangers of Smoking in Bed by Mariana Enriquez. They’re surreal, vividly-coloured, and unsettling – which makes them a perfect match for the incredible stories inside.
THE BEST FILM POSTER OFF ALL TIME
I had the poster for the 1988 remake of The Blob on my wall when I was a teenager, so it’s indelibly etched in my mind. That hopeless human form, trapped in the lurid pink jelly was profoundly disturbing. The tagline “Terror has no shape” reads as pretty naff now though.
THE BEST BOOK / FILM I HAVE WRITTEN
The best, and only, book I’ve written to date is See My Breath Dance Ghostly, a collection of 14 weird and unsettling short stories. It features uncanny encounters, strange transformations, freaky cryptids, and undead kittens. Some of the stories are horror, others are weird fiction, a few are surreal and dreamlike. I hope it will appeal to fans of David Lynch, Thomas Ligotti, and Daisy Johnson.
THE WORST BOOK / FILM I HAVE WRITTEN
I wrote a short story called Long on Words, Short on Ideas or The Ecstasy of Saint Romuald of Ravenna and the Perfect Paralysis Wrought by Man’s Infinite Capacity for Recursive Thought which was pretty much deliberately bad. It’s a self-referential story about a pretentious writer trying, and failing, to write a story filled with profound insight into the human condition. It’s definitely not autobiographical. Nope. Definitely not me. Nosiree!
THE MOST UNDERRATED FILM OF ALL TIME
I don’t think Inland Empire by David Lynch gets enough love. Yes, it’s sprawling and messy and self-indulgent, but it’s also atmospheric, unsettling, creatively audacious, and features on of the all-time great performances by Laura Dern. Oh, and it incorporates elements of Lynch’s short film series Rabbits, which has been used by psychologists to instill a sense of existential dread in subjects as part of an academic study. How many films can say that?
THE MOST UNDERRATED AUTHOR OF ALL TIME
I don’t hear many people raving about Robert Aikman’s stories. I only discovered him a few years ago myself, but he wrote dozens of amazing short stories in his lifetime, which are an absolute masterclass in low-key atmosphere, and quietly uncanny events. The Stains is a classic of weird fiction, and The Hospice is a completely unique and unsettling reading experience.
THE BOOK / FILM THAT SACRED ME THE MOST
I read The Amityville Horror when I was a teenager and the fact that it purported to be a factual account, based on true events, meant that it got under my skin in a way that no other book ever had.
I remember being genuinely unsettled by it, struggling to get to sleep after reading it – but simultaneously fascinated and unable to put it down. Nothing since has ever scared me like that.
THE BOOK / FILM I AM WORKING ON NEXT
I hope to pull together another collection of short stories in the future, but for right now, I have a forthcoming publication in a new horror magazine called The Deeps – which I think will be one to watch.
WHAT I’D LIKE TO PROMOTE
Mathew Gostelow’s short story collection See My Breath Dance Ghostly features 14 strange tales and is available now: https://amzn.eu/d/hza6PuO
See My Breath Dance Ghostly
‘See My Breath Dance Ghostly’ will take you from dilapidated stairwells and run-down motel rooms to dark woods and ferocious oceans, through tales of terrifying transformations and strange encounters. Each story unravels a different shade of darkness, gripping your senses and refusing to let go.
Within these pages radios crackle with strange voices, children’s stories hide dark secrets, undead kittens prowl, and ancient words catch like thorns in your throat, revealing paths of dark magic.
Mathew Gostelow’s remarkable mastery of atmosphere and unease will leave you breathless, yearning for more.
“This collection binds the everyday and the uncanny together, to spellbinding effect. These stories of dreams and visions, spectres and visitations, are endlessly inventive, shot through with heart, and linger in the mind long after you have read them.”
Katy Naylor, Editor of the voidspace, author of ‘Postcards from Ragnarok’.
“Mathew Gostelow crafts fiction with boundless originality, his style and phrasing nothing short of unsung mastery. These stories glint in the darkness, a broiling, intoxicating blend of cinematic scope and twisty folklore, leaving the reader teetering on the edge of suspense.”
Oak Ayling, author of ‘With Love from the Curator’, Editor in Chief of Spare Parts Literary.
Mathew Gostelow (he/him) is a dad, husband, and writer, living in Birmingham, UK. Some days he wakes early and writes strange tales. If you catch him staring into space, he is either thinking about Twin Peaks or cooked breakfasts. His first short story collection “See My Breath Dance Ghostly” is available now, published by Alien Buddha. Mat was nominated for the Pushcart Prize by Spare Parts Lit in 2022 and longlisted for the Welkin Prize in 2023. You can find him on Twitter: @MatGost